“We’ve really done some things that nobody has done in the state and a lot of this is because of the people that we just renewed their contracts,” said Johnson of the contract renewals.
For Pocono Mountain, securing top-level administrators to long-term contracts was essential to continuing to improve the district. The contract renewals were Dr. Elizabeth Robison, Dr. Catherine Sweeney, Dr. Mary Beth Gustafson and Joseph Colozza.
Robison is the district superintendent and has been since 2011. Her renewed contract has her slated to make $225,100 in the 2019-2020 school year with a performance-based, three percent raise each year. By 2023-2024, the end of the contract, she could make $253,352 for the school year.
Sweeney is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Gustafson is the assistant superintendent for special education and Colozza is the district’s chief financial officer. These three individuals signed contracts that have them scheduled to make $168,825 during the next school year and $190,014 during the 2023-2024 school year.
It should be noted, these renewals do not include any raises other than the three percent raise per year which is consistent throughout the district based on performance reviews.
While Pocono Mountain School District is the largest in the county, it is also known for having a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students and families. According to a 2017 district financial report, the median income per person in the county was $39,104 – one-fourth of what Colozza, Gustafson and Sweeney will make next year and about one-sixth of what Robison will make.
While their salaries are well above average for Monroe County residents, administrators said they are aware of the financial situations in their communities and work hard, in and out of PMSD, to improve those communities.
“We’re extremely sensitive to that fact, not only in the Pocono Mountain school district but Monroe County. We are vested in the community, we serve on numerous boards and organizations and are very passionate for helping (local) families,” Sweeney said.
Johnson, who joined the school board in 2011, feels that without the leadership and guidance of these four administrators over the past seven years, the district could be in dire straits.
While discussing the contracts, which would make each of the administrators the highest paid in the county at their respective positions, Johnson pointed out the financial situation of the district when Robison was appointed as superintendent in 2011. At the time, the district had a fund balance that was $20 million in the negative and that fund balance now contains $30 million.
One of the things the administrators have done successfully, that others had failed to do, was react to attrition rates. As enrollment has fallen, the current administration has made moves, including eliminating staff positions, which they believe have made the district more efficient.
“Quite honestly, the last superintendent we had never reacted to attrition in any of the ways it should have been handled,” Johnson said.
Since Robison took over in 2011, the district has eliminated three separate superintendent positions in an effort to consolidate. Those positions were for assistant superintendent for technology, assistant superintendent for elementary and assistant superintendent for pupil services. While trimming positions and adapting to falling enrollment, one of the main priorities for Robison was stopping tax increases.
According to Johnson, the district had faced 23 years of tax increases coming into 2011 and they have now dropped their millage rate by 12 points.
“The contract renewal for me was performance. The last seven years, we’ll put that up against anybody in the state and possibly the nation,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that the board does their due diligence when renewing contracts but did not feel opting for contracts with a smaller price tag but less experience is not the direction the district wanted to go. While he admits some residents may be surprised to see the salary figures, seeking to fill those roles with outside candidates did not make sense to the board.
“At the end of the day, you hope you’re getting the right person but you don’t know. The bottom line is, here we know what we’re getting and we want it to continue for the next five years,” Johnson said.